I am a Phd Candidate at Michigan State University, conducting research at Historic St. Mary's City in Maryland, and living in Williamsburg, Virginia. I have a lot of homes. Follow me on Twitter @brockter!

A Day of Rest at Montpelier

For this Day of Archaeology, The Montpelier Archaeology Department is taking the day off. Or at least, we gave our staff the day off. Why? Because they work their tails off every day, and have had a particularly long stretch of excavations for the past few months, and have even more coming up. And because we appreciate their hard work and dedication to our mission. Days of archaeology at Montpelier aren’t long because of the archaeology: we have an amazing site, we’re in Phase III for the next three years. What can make it exhausting, mentally and emotionally, is the amount of public archaeology we do, and our staff are the point people for this interaction and teaching.

At Montpelier, we run two archaeological field schools from May through July. We had incredible turnout this year: 51 applicants for 30 slots. The programs were both filled to the brim, and our staff helped guide them through the excavation of almost 60 units during that time. As everyone who has worked with a field school knows, these groups can be challenging since you never know what you’re going to get. They require constant supervision, since so many of them are new to the discipline. They require time to teach, indulge, cajole, and motivate. Our staff did an incredible job with them, both in encouraging the strong students to improve themselves, working with the weaker ones to make them proficient, and to make sure the students in the middle made progress.

Next week, we start the summer season of our Expedition Program. Once again, the staff are the front line in these week-long public programs. Members of the public visit Montpelier for an entire week, live on the property, and work in excavation units with our staff members and interns. We have 12 people coming next week, 15 the week after that, and around 10 the third week (still slots available! Email us at dig@montpelier.org!!). These programs are incredibly rewarding, but also hard work. Once again, you are teaching, coaching, motivating, and building relationships.

In all, a day off is always something to consider when you know people have worked their tails off. Archaeology is a tough discipline: it is hot. It is physical. When you work on sites of slavery like we are, it can be emotional. It can also be grueling when you are in front of the public every day, putting on your smiling, cheery face and doing the good work of public archaeology. Teaching is challenging. Ensuring the site is excavated properly (we don’t stage our excavations for the public, this is the real deal) requires total attention from our staff. Even for the most extroverted, that can require time to relax. So, for this Day of Archaeology, the Montpelier staff is taking a breather, so that on Monday we can show up enthusiastic and fresh for the Expeditioners who will be waiting for us!

A Day in an Archaeological Tool Kit

My day of archaeology is relatively mundane: I spend most of it working on my dissertation, a look into the transition from slavery to freedom on a 19th century plantation in Southern Maryland. While I love my work, I often get the urge to be in the field, particularly with the weather as wonderful as it has been this week. So, I thought I’d take out my archaeology bag and show you around.

The archaeology bag is more than just a bag with your trowels in it: in many ways it is a reflection of what kind of archaeologist you are. I’m one of those guys who likes to have a tool for everything. I am a gadget man, and I’m always on the lookout for a new tool that could help me be a more effective archaeologist, or to be more helpful in the field.

My bag is a Mountain Hardware Splitter. I particularly like this bag because it is comfortable and rugged, and can hold a great deal of equipment. It was originally designed for mountain climbers to hold their ropes. It has some nifty features on it. My particular favorite is a system of loops at the top of the inside: I use them to attach carabiners to, and then hang equipment from the carabiners. This way, the equipment doesn’t bunch up at the bottom of the pack. Instead, it hangs, evenly distributed, throughout the entire pack. Not only does this mean things are easy to get to, but it also means that the weight is distributed throughout my entire back, making it easier to carry.

Some of my favorite tools include my trowels, which I received during my field school. Some tools I love for their practicality, such as the duct tape or the WD-40 to keep my tools from rusting, or some of the surprises (sham-wows work). Others still tend to be a bit more personal: if you click on the images below, you’ll notice that quite a lot of my tool bag is devoted to reducing perspiration (I have a very efficient personal cooling system). Towels, hats, sweat bands, hydration packs…I even carry a bag of salt with my lunch to replenish what I lose.

The tools you carry are also going to reflect where you excavate. I used to dig in Michigan, so foot and hand warmers have become a mainstay in my pack, as have an extra pair of gloves. Now that I’m in Virginia, hydration is the most important part of my kit. In addition to the hydration pack, I typically have two or three water bottles at the ready. A mosquito net has been advantageous in both states.

Safety is also a crucial component of the archaeology bag. Mine includes a tiny first aid kit, sunscreen, a hat, gloves for screening (nails and glass can cut), a reflective vest for roadside or hunting ground survey, and a hard hat (or at least, it did…then my dog chewed it up). Archaeology is a physical activity, and you never know when one of these items might be needed.

Finally, there’s lunch. It’s important to make sure that you eat an adequate lunch each day, as well as a few snacks throughout. I purchased a lunch bag from Mountainsmith (“The Sixer”) that can adequately hold enough food, snacks, and water, to keep me fueled for the day. It easily attaches to my pack via carabiners if necessary, or I can throw it over my shoulder with the strap. I always freeze one of my water bottles to serve as an ice pack. This saves me some room, and I have ice cold water to drink at lunch time. I also love my Mr. Bento: this contraption will keep food hot or cold for up to eight hours. There’s nothing like pulling out warm soup at lunch time when you’re excavating in frigid temps. The best part about the “Sixer”? It holds exactly six beers for post-excavation relaxing.

Feel free to browse the photos below for a glimpse into my bag of archaeological goodies. You’ll probably recognize most of them: we archaeologists are wonderful at the reuse of everyday objects. Click on an image and it will take you to my Flickr set, where I have added notes to the image describing the tools, what they are, and how I use them!

A day: Professional Service, the Dissertation, and Happy Hour

What this archaeologist will not be doing today: digging.

A day in my life, as a PhD Candidate in Anthropology at Michigan State University (but residing in the historical archaeology mecca of Williamsburg, Virginia), is often a a struggle between writing my dissertation and taking care of other archaeologically related business that seems to pop up throughout the day. For example, my morning today started with taking care of some professional service responsibilities. As a graduate student, I have been doing my part to make sure I can weasel my way into making an impact on how my discipline works professionally. Often, this is a difficult task for a grad student, but, I consider it important. This morning (after a bit of sleeping in because I was up late grading for my online introduction to archaeology course) I sat down to a number of emails and tasks relating to professional organizational business. I have managed to find a niche within my organization, the Society for Historical Archaeology: social media. Part of my responsibilities has been running the Facebook and Twitter pages for the upcoming conference in Baltimore. Additionally, I have been working closely with other members to develop an action plan to get the entire organization to use social media in a comprehensive and effective way. We are making solid progress.


My afternoon, however, will be much different. This afternoon, I write.  I swear. I will write and write and write. And not just any writing: dissertation writing. At 1 pm ET, I will sit in my chair, and work on my dissertation. This is probably the hardest part of being a graduate student, archaeology or otherwise, is writing every day. Today’s subject will be outlining a theory section, which makes it even more painful to think about. The subject of my dissertation are two slave quarters in Southern Maryland, one of which was occupied until the 1950s.The theory is a look at communities, agency, and social relations. It will be loads of fun…

The GreenLeafe: Local Archaeologist watering hole since....well, forever.

Fortunately, my day ends with every archaeologist’s favorite past time: Happy Hour (I am convinced that Day of Archaeology was scheduled on a Friday to ensure that there would be blog posts about beer). This evening is a special happy hour, in fact. Not only will I visit the local bar to share a beverage with my friends from the Colonial Williamsburg Digital History Center (the majority of whom are archaeologists, in fact), but this evening I will be saying goodbye to a fellow field tech from the James River Institute for Archaeology, a local CRM firm that I have been working part time for over the past few months (grad students need to pay the bills). He is heading off to graduate school, himself, and there is no better send-off then some beers with archaeologists at the GreenLeafe.

Happy Day of Archaeology everybody!